1987 / 6月
Gypsy Chang /photos courtesy of Chung Yung-ho /tr. by Peter Eberly
The people of Hong Kong have always been good at thinking up ways to make money, and speculation in stocks, gold, and real estate abounds.
Gambling is also widespread. Young people crowd the racetracks to play the horses; mahjong games get started six hours before the wedding reception; and high school students are afraid to get their hair cut on Saturday afternoon if the barber has lost money the night before.
Along with a fixation on moneymaking and a passion for gambling, the people of Hong Kong have also been criticized for a calculating realism and political apathy; but these characteristics are not innate.
In fact, after a series of civil disturbances during the 1960's, the British government discouraged the population from getting involved in politics. Gambling was one of the methods used to distract and pacify the populace.
A more important method of soothing the population has been serious efforts to improve living conditions.
Since the 1970's, the Hong Kong government, in response to the public will, has engaged in wide-scale construction of schools, public housing, and a rapid transit system and has reformed the bureaucracy, cleaning out corruption, eliminating special privileges, and strengthening police protection.
Hong Kong people believe in the power of the law--that as long as you go according to the book you won't run into problems. And public announcements on TV encourage people to speak out if they are dissatisfied with the public order, the environment, the subway. . . .
Under this sort of "freedom without democracy," the people of Hong Kong have poured all their efforts into succeeding economically. And the Hong Kong government has adopted a laissez-faire, internationalist economic policy, leaving companies pretty much alone as long as they pay their annual tax. These factors, combined with an advantageous geographical location that has enabled the colony to become the world's second largest transshipment port, have created a society where business is boss.
"There's money to be made, plenty to eat, horses to play, and you can say whatever you feel like," one citizen says, who appears to be pretty much satisfied.
The vast majority of the people of Hong Kong come from the Chinese mainland, some half a million having fled during the years 1962 to 1980. Having suffered the extremes of political repression, to them freedom is a luxury; besides decent food and shelter, what more could one ask for?
You mind your business, and I'll mind mine--an unspoken understanding between the rulers and the ruled has made Hong Kong a very special kind of colony.
So in 1982 when the British began talking to mainland China about the 1997 question, memories were stirred up that the Hong Kong people would rather have left forgotten.
Since September 1984, when the joint declaration was announced, the ships have continued to ply the harbor as busily as before; the young people and Westerners continue to crowd the shopping district, with its windows full of tempting goods from around the world; and the sound of mahjong continues to rise and fall from the upstairs tearooms. . . on the surface, nothing seems to have changed.
But a local writer cautions: it's not wise to judge Hong Kong from the surface.
The race track at Sha Tin is crowded with bettors.